This letter was written by Fidus Livermore (1811-1880), the son of Abner and Melinda (Bassett) Livermore of Oneida County, New York. A Jackson County, Michigan, history says that “Fidus Livermore moved into Jackson in May, 1839, and commenced the practice [of law] the same year. He was popular with the public and soon became a leader in the professsion. He was a peculiarly smooth and plausible man, and one of his opponents once said of him, “He does not know so much law, but be makes the people think he knows it all.” He was a Democrat, and as such was elected town treasurer in 1841, member of the legislature in 1846, and several terms prosecuting attorney. He was at times a candidate for other offices, including a seat in congress, but was defeated. He once said he “had been knocked down so many times, he had begun to like it.” In all respects, Mr. Livermore was always a good citizen and possessed the confidence and esteem of the public.”
Livermore wrote the letter to John W. Brooks (1818-18xx), an outstanding American railroad builder and entrepreneur who was foremost in the making of the Michigan Central Railroad and other lines further west. In 1846, James Frederick Joy and John W. Brooks purchased the Michigan Central Railroad line from the state of Michigan. Brooks later became a director of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad and president and director of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad.
We learn from the letter the particulars of an accident involving the injury to a 35 year-old man named Elliott M. Holland that resulted in an amputation of an arm. Holland was injured while assisting a conductor on the Michigan Central Railroad. It appears that Holland volunteered his services in exchange for passage on the railroad and as such, in the eyes of the law, was not considered to be an employee of the railroad. Holland’s signature appears at the bottom of the letter in a separate statement, most likely prepared by Livermore, in which he acknowledges the receipt of $50 as full compensation for the loss of his limb. I could find nothing about this incident in on-line newspapers from 1850.
Addressed to J. W. Brooks, Esq., Superintendent Rail Road, Detroit
November 8th 1850
Hon. J. W. Brooks
Superintendent of Michigan Central RR Co.
Mr. Elliott M. Holland, a young man about 35 years of age, met with a serious accident on Monday last near this place in attempting to couple freight cars smashed his elbow & arm so that amputation was indispensable. His arm was taken off above the elbow. He is now at the American Hotel quite sick and in destitute circumstances and will be a charge upon the public unless relief can be obtained from some source.
The circumstances that he relates to me are these (I must say from the manner that he relates them & from his personal appearance I should judge them true): That in consequence of sickness during the summer, he had become reduced in circumstances and concluded that he would go to Detroit & seek employment &c.; that at New Buffalo, he made application to a conductor by the name of Cole for passage on the cars to Detroit, paid him one dollar & was to help as a hand what he could in handing wood, &c.; that soon after they left New Buffalo, one of the hands on the train got hurt at the bridge & could not proceed & that the conductor wanted this Mr. Holland to take his place; that he did so & worked & did what was required of him in handing wood & at the fire, &c.; that when the train got a short distance from Jackson next — the train being very long — they had to leave a portion of the train & reliance for these left & in the act of coupling them together again, which he did at the request of the Engineer, his arm was smashed as aforesaid.
Mr. Holland is really an unfortunate man and an object of charity. He requested me to call & see him. I advised him that probably under the circumstances, the RR Co. are not holden to him in the law for damages, but I find that some persons would write to advise him to the contrary. I hope under the circumstances that you will favorably consider his misfortunes and grant him relief.
I am with respect, your obedient servant, — F. Livermore
I, Elliott M. Holland, have received this ninth day of November 1850 the sum of fifty dollars in full compensation for injuries received detailed in the letter of F. Livermore upon this sheet. — E. M. Holland